Editorial: College expectations versus reality


For college freshmen, the heat of August brings anticipation and excitement of new friends, attending class to learn from some of the greatest minds, adjusting to questionable dining hall food and beginning a new chapter of life. Television, movies, social media and stories from those who’ve gone before us all tell us what the college experience is supposed resemble. But is it really all like Animal House or the pictures we see on Facebook of our friends dolled up and having the time of their lives?

According to a study by Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, students are entering college with “unrealistic or unrealized expectations.” This is causing students to feel emotionally stressed because the reality of the college experience isn’t aligning with what they thought it would be.

The study dubbed this phenomenon the “freshman myth.” Students buying into this myth are left thinking that they will have always a positive dorm and roommate experience, while also having high expectations of the physical school environments and their own involvement in activities. Although some students do go on to have these positive experiences, it won’t always be perfect.

For some, the prospect of college may mean spending every waking second in the library studying, trying to cram in as much information before it’s exam week. For others, college comes with the idea of having tons of free time and the independence to do whatever interests them. A big shock for many is that they actually have to do more than simply complete their homework to earn a good grade. They might have to put in a level of effort they’re not accustomed to.

At the beginning of college, some might feel a desire to transfer schools, and question whether they made the right decision on where to spend the next four years. It’s normal to be unsure because the first few weeks of college are filled with so many new and unusual experiences. Adjusting can be difficult, especially when everything isn’t what it was expected to be.

Every student has his or her own perception of college life before they begin their education. But no matter how you look at it, it all seems to lead to the expectations put forth by media, family and friends, according to the study.

When flooded with images on Instagram of people having a perfect college experience, articles about how college is the best time of your life, movies that show the sleepless nights and endless partying, and even hearing first account tales from peers, it’s confusing to grasp what college is really like. Regardless of how your expectations met your reality, it all boils down to each individual having a unique experience.

A student living in special interest housing may have a polar opposite experience than one living in Lower Cents. The organizations you join, whether it’s an academic club, a Greek chapter or the Quidditch team, all assist in shaping the experience. You meet and lose friends along the way, learn how to cook when you move off-campus and maybe even change your major a few times. You learn more about yourself with each passing year, which then defines your experience and affects your individual growth.

Students change as they go through college, partially because the ages 18-22 tend to be a transitional part in one’s life. With a new year, new place and new experience mentality, students can find themselves wanting to reinvent themselves completely. Whether or not the change is intentional, it even happens to those who are trying to remain the same person they were in high school. As the years go on, you’ve hopefully become wiser and more mature. When it all comes down to that first day of senior year, you look back thinking you are different from when you first arrived at Lehigh – amazed by the glorious architecture, unsure of where your classes were and completely lost on how to pronounce (or identify) the letters of the Greek alphabet.

No matter what influenced your expectations of how college should be, you were probably prepared for some things, let down by others and completely confused at times. Adapting to a new environment can be overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that your expectations don’t have to line up with what you’ve been told. Each college experience is different, and by senior year those initial expectations may not matter. However they may have been met or missed, what matters about your experience is what you made of it.

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